Hang on there

The yet-to-be-explained decision by the FIA World Council to deprive McLaren of all its points in this year's Constructors' Championship and to fine the team $100m seems like a Draconian punishment for a breach of Article 151c of the International Sporting Code which states that competitors can be punished for "fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport".

We may learn of specific evidence that warrants such a punishment - we may not - but one question that the FIA is going to struggle to answer is how this penalty fits in with previous punishments in cases where the same article should have been employed.

There is the famous case in 1994 - under Max Mosley's watch at the FIA - when Benetton walked scot-free from the World Council, despite admitting that it cheated by tampering with refuelling equipment. The FIA justified letting Benetton off the hook by saying that the filter had been removed by " a junior member" of the team. As part a cobbled together solution to avoid ruining the World Championship at the time Benetton boss Flavio Briatore agreed to make "substantial management changes" to ensure that there was no repeat of the incident.

A year later the Toyota rally team tried to use the Benetton defence against running illegal turbo restrictors - but this time the FIA World Council threw out the argument - and banned Toyota from the World Championship for the next 12 months.

"Toyota said the decision had been made at a certain level of the team and that the management had not known about it," Max Mosley said, "but the team has to take responsibility."

Roll on to 2003 and Toyota was again in trouble but the FIA did not care to involve itself in an espionage case brought by Ferrari against two former employees Mauro Iacconi and Angelo Santini who were later found guilty of industrial espionage in an Italian court. Santini was condemned to nine months in prison by the Tribunale di Modena, while Iacconi was given a 16 month sentence. Both prison terms were suspended. The FIA says that it did not get involved because it was not asked to get involved, but this ignores the fact that Toyota had already run into trouble with the federation and ought perhaps to have been punished for a repeat offence, something which the civil court did not take into consideration at all. Toyota has yet to receive any punishment for that.

No doubt Max Mosley will have suitably plausible explanations for all of this when he turns up at Spa today.

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